Sidy has been pushing me lately.
In class, he'll sit with his head bowed, listening to me. Sometimes watching my hands intently. Then, he will lift his head, signal us to stop and tell me what I am doing wrong. "Your tones and slaps are muddy. They need to be clearer." or "That rhythm is off. You know you know it, but you are thinking too much and aren't able to play it."
I find this, frankly, thrilling.
I know he worries that I feel he is picking on me, but it is the exact opposite. I feel like I have reached some kind of threshold, where suddenly, it isn't about me ham-fistedly banging out the basic rhythms, but indeed, finessing the real essence of a piece from my drum. It is a refining process. It is, in other words, the kind of work that someone beyond beginner stage gets to do.
And believe me, it is a stretch. If I think about the tones and slaps, I mess up. If I think too much about anything, I lose my concentration and mess up. I am at the stage now where it works best for me to imitate what Sidy plays, rather than try and sort out what is a tone or slap, count the number of strokes, etc. I used to need to write it all down in black and white so I could wrap my brain around it. Now it is better to just listen and see if I can hear what I need to play and then try to play it. Over and over again.
Rhythms build slowly. First, it is a matter of remembering the handing. Then, the tones and slaps. Then, the swing of a piece begins to emerge. Then I listen to Sidy play it again, and it becomes painfully clear that it will be years before I can play it as beautifully as he does.
But that, too, is thrilling.